Endangered Data Week: Charlottesville Open Data Portal

This post is one of several we are publishing about this year’s Endangered Data Week. This contribution comes from Sheila Blackford, librarian for the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, managing editor of American President, and principle investigator for the Connecting Presidential Collections project.

#Charlottesville

The year of 2017 was a hard one for the city of Charlottesville, Virginia. The KKK and Neo-Nazis came to town, protesters and counter-protesters marched and clashed, and three people died. Suddenly Charlottesville was on the national and international news, and people began to wonder what happened and how we got here. Many of the crowds were from out of town and had descended on the city for all the happenings. But after the dust cleared, many in the community began asking questions about race relations, policing, poverty, and affluence. Trying to figure out what happened led to more general questions about the city’s history, its demographics, and its government.

Coincidently the same month as the violent protests, the city of Charlottesville launched a website that might help answer some of the questions. The Charlottesville Open Data Portal includes 78 data sets organized in 10 categories. The data sets include details on the 2010 census, historically underutilized business zones, capital improvement projects, crime data, and real estate assessments. The data is machine readable, and the city encourages people to download the data and play with it. The portal has APIs, and the data can be downloaded as full sets or filtered sets.

As part of Endangered Data Week in February 2018, the Scholars Lab at the University of Virginia hosted a presentation about Charlottesville Open Data. Steve Hawkes, Software Applications Manager for the city of Charlottesville, introduced the portal and gave an overview about its details. Then the presentation delved into one example of how people might use the data. By looking at the addresses related to parking tickets, it is possible to see where the police give parking tickets most frequently, the days of the week and the times of the day that cars are most likely to get a ticket, and the specific sections of city streets that are especially prone to ticketing. Not only does this information warn a driver where to be careful about overstaying their parking times near downtown, but it might also allow the city planners to identify areas where parking is especially problematic and develop ideas on how to improve parking options.

The city encourages people to use the data in creative ways and to analyze the data to allow for better decision-making based on actual data. The website has a discussion group and a feedback form to encourage people to use the data, request other data, and provide details about how they have used the data. One limitation on the portal is that the data is relatively new. For example, real estate assessments only go back about 20 years and parking ticket data only goes back to 2002. Still the portal is a great place to start for citizens to learn more about their city and engage with data about its various aspects.

For more information, visit http://opendata.charlottesville.org/